A series of unusual scenes on the streets of the Middle East nurtured an inspiring story line of an emerging “Arab spring” that mimicked the earlier triumph of democracy from the Philippines to Prague: mass demonstrations in Lebanon; joint rallies of Egyptian Islamists and liberals against the Mubarak regime; and elections in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia.
The recent opening in Saudi politics has not altered the authoritarian nature of the political system fundamentally. As it lacks the leverage of economic or military aid that can be conditioned to the implementation of further reform measures, the United States must pursue reform in Saudi Arabia in a different way than in other Arab countries.
The so-called Seven Sisters—the major western oil firms that divided up world oil after WWII—now control only a small proportion of international reserves. Rather, state monopolies and emerging partially privatized firms now control the lion’s share of world oil. The Baker institute’s study is the first to look at how national oil companies affect the development of the global oil market.
The failure of U.S. policy in Iraq has provided autocratic regimes in the Middle East a reprieve from the pressure to democratize, as long as they position themselves clearly on the side of Washington in its looming confrontation with Iran, Syria, and Shiite Islamists.
Carnegies's third meeting dealing with political reform in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries featured researchers from across the region. The discussion focused on various drivers of political reform: political actors; new political institutions; economic transformation; and the impact of new ideas and debates to which the region's population is increasingly exposed through mass media.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in partnership with Wilton Park, held a conference October 6-8, 2006 on the challenges of top-down, managed reform efforts in Arab countries. Discussion focused on how reformers within or close to ruling establishments view prospects for reform inside their countries as well as the impact of pressure for change coming from outside.
Given the last two weeks in the Middle East — client entities like Hizbollah provoking a conflict, the Saudis and Egyptians speaking without power from the sidelines, Western uncertainty about the role of Syria and Iran — is it possible to draw a new map of the Middle East?
This is a dangerous moment for the Middle East, because the conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon could easily escalate to involve the broader region. Any strategy to address the present crisis must deal with the realities of the Middle East as they are now, not try to leapfrog over them by seeking to impose a grand new vision. Such a vision would be bound to fail as it did in the case of Iraq.
The lack of democratic breakthroughs worthy of mention in Arab countries has spurred debate about barriers to change. The debate would be incomplete, however, without a discussion of the means by which authoritarian Arab regimes control their societies, particularly the critical roles performed by security services.
Amr Hamzawy presented his Carnegie Paper “The Saudi Labyrinth: Evaluating the Current Political Opening." Jamal Khashoggi, Advisor to the Ambassador of the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and David Ottaway of the Washington Post served as discussants and Nathan Brown moderated.